Best relegated players
Xherdan Shaqiri, Jonny Evans and Mario Lemina have all played Champions League football in the past. That isn’t the only thing they have in common: all three players are currently staring relegation to the Championship in the face.
It’s fair to say none of Shaqiri, Evans and Lemina anticipated demotion when they joined Stoke, West Brom and Southampton respectively, but far superior footballers have suffered the drop in the past. In this slideshow, we pick out 10 of them.
William "Dixie" Dean (Everton, 1929-30)
Unless the unofficial curriculum has changed when FourFourTwo wasn't looking, every football-loving schoolchild knows about Dean’s incredible 60-goal haul in 1927-28 – but few are aware that he was relegated to the Second Division just two years later.
In fairness to the striker, who netted 18 times in 16 England caps, it was hardly his fault: Dean notched a highly respectable 23 goals in 25 games in 1929-30, but Everton finished bottom by a point. The striker stuck around as the Toffees bounced back at the first time of asking; they've only been outside the top flight for three seasons since.
Franco Baresi (Milan, 1981-82)
Milan have failed to challenge for the league title for several seasons now, but even recent mid-table finishes weren’t the lowest ebb to which the club has sunk. In 1980 the Rossoneri were sent to Serie B as punishment for their involvement in a betting scandal; after immediately climbing back to the top tier with a minimum of fuss, they were then relegated on the pitch in 1981-82.
Centre-back Baresi was just 22 when Milan’s second demotion was confirmed, but his decision to stick with the club in the second tier cemented his position as a Milan legend and one of the greatest ever one-club men.
Oliver Bierhoff (Ascoli, 1991-92)
Bierhoff’s club career was a slow burner. The striker managed just 10 league goals in 73 matches for three different German clubs, before finally announcing himself during a successful stint at Austria Salzburg in 1990-91.
Two steps back were necessary before the next one forward, however: Bierhoff joined Ascoli in 1991, but the Woodpeckers were relegated to Serie B in his first season at the club. The forward stayed put, though, and by 1998 he’d earned himself a move to Milan after three excellent years at Udinese.
Gabriel Batistuta (Fiorentina, 1992-93)
The early 1990s were a painful time for Fiorentina. Still smarting from the perceived skullduggery that handed the Serie A title to Juventus at their expense in 1982, fans of the Viola were left heartbroken when star man Roberto Baggio swapped Tuscany for Turin in 1990.
Still, the signing of Batistuta from Boca Juniors in 1991 eased some of that agony. The Argentine was unable to prevent Fiorentina’s demotion to Serie B, although he gave it a fine effort by scoring 16 goals in 32 Serie A games in 1992-93.
His decision to stay at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and fire the club back into the top flight at the first time of asking contributed to the hero status he still enjoys to this day.
Roberto Ayala (Napoli 1997-98)
In summer 1986, Napoli were still awaiting their maiden Scudetto. Twelve years later, they had two to their name – thanks largely to a man named Diego Maradona – but were preparing for life in Serie B rather than the Champions League.
The Partenopei were abysmal throughout 1997-98, accumulating just 14 points and winning only two matches in the league. A backline which included Ayala, who won 115 caps for Argentina, was breached on 76 occasions, and Napoli managed only 25 goals at the other end.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Malmo, 1999)
You may have noticed that Ibrahimovic doesn’t lack self-belief, but even the cocksure Swede must have been slightly humbled by Malmo’s relegation in 1999. That was the striker’s first campaign in the senior squad (in which he featured six times), but even a footballer of his prodigious talent couldn’t keep the Sky Blues’ heads above water.
Perhaps the relative lack of scrutiny in the second tier ultimately did the Swede a favour: Ibrahimovic netted 12 times in 26 matches to help Malmo back into the first division, before joining Ajax in 2001.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Atletico Madrid, 1999-2000)
Moving from Leeds to Atletico Madrid would be a major step up these days, but swapping Yorkshire for the Spanish capital didn’t turn out quite so well for Hasselbaink.
The Dutchman scored exactly half of the Claudio Ranieri-led Colchoneros’ 48 goals in 1999-2000 – only one player in La Liga found the back of the net more often – but his team-mates’ steadfast refusal to chip in ultimately cost Atletico their place in La Liga. The government-backed removal of club president Jesus Gil halfway through the season wasn’t ideal, either.
Willian (Corinthians, 2007)
When Jose Mourinho was sacked for overseeing Chelsea’s implosion in 2015-16, Willian was the only player on the Blues’ books who could hold his head up high.
As the defending champions hovered precariously above the relegation zone, the Brazil international may well have used his experience with Corinthians as motivation: Willian featured in 15 league matches in 2007, when the Sao Paulo-based outfit went down on the final day.
Their relegation from the top flight confirmed the forward’s exit, with Shakhtar Donetsk paying €14m for his services soon after.
Pablo Aimar (Real Zaragoza, 2007-08)
You have to be pretty good at football to be Lionel Messi’s idol, but former River Plate, Valencia and Benfica star Aimar certainly passed that test. The attacking midfielder won six league titles and two continental gongs during his playing days, but he couldn’t keep Zaragoza in La Liga in the 2007-08 campaign.
Los Manos racked up 42 points, which would have been enough to survive in the Premier League, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga that year. Yet Zaragoza still had to wave goodbye to their top-tier status – as well as to Aimar, who hotfooted it to Benfica.
Erik Lamela (River Plate, 2010-11)
The Spurs man was involved in perhaps the most astonishing relegation of all time, as Argentine giants River Plate inexplicably dropped out of the top tier in 2011.
Having made his first-team debut two years earlier, Lamela was a regular in his boyhood team’s starting XI when the unthinkable happened. Despite the Primera Division’s relegation rules being based on a three-year points average specifically to protect the country’s biggest clubs from such disasters, River somehow contrived to go down after losing a two-legged play-off to Belgrano.
Lists, Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Lemina, Jonny Evans, West Bromwich Albion, Southampton, Stoke City, Pablo Aimar, Roberto Ayala, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Oliver Bierhoff, Gabriel Batistuta, Willian, Franco Baresi, Erik Lamela, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Atlético Madrid, Milan, River Plate, Corinthians, Fiorentina, Ascoli, Malmö FF, Napoli, Real Zaragoza